Two Wheels to Panamábook111

by William Carroll

143 pages, $20.00

Auto Book Press, copyright 1995

by Sev Pearman 

If you can’t be on an adventure, the next best thing is to read about one. While Publisher Wanchena, Kocur and Berglund were off riding the first leg of the Trans-America Trail (story pending) Tammy, Gus and I held down the fort and got this issue out the door. We made the best of it, raiding both the MMM liquor cabinet and humidor.

This month’s title is the obviously vicarious Two Wheels to Panamá. It is the true story of William Carroll’s 1950 motorcycle adventure down La Carretera Interamericana, or Pan-American Highway. After his business fails, Mr. Carroll mortgages his small home, purchases a new BSA B33 500cc single and heads south.

The descriptive, journal-style text provides vivid detail of both people and place. Border crossings and other significant events are noted along with the date and odometer reading. Mr. Carroll is a respectful observer of the people he meets. No gringo, he adapts to siesta, charms pompous officials and readily negotiates for goods and services.

Mr. Carroll savors local fare, happily dining on what is available. On one boat ride between Puntarena and Puerto Cortes, Costa Rica, he shares the pork patties and bread of the crew over the steaks, fish, coffee and bread of the other paying passengers.

The author’s standout photography makes this book. Included are 174 black-and-white prints taken with a Kodak 9 x 12 and a Rolleiflex 2-1/4 x 2-1/4. Mr. Carroll shoots in a candid, photojournalism style with the occasional formal, stiff portrait, usually shot to accommodate dignitaries. Mr. Carroll also shot thousands of feet of 16mm film. MMM would love to see this footage!

While we don’t know Mr. Carroll’s age or why he chose Panamá, his photographs provide some clues. At the time of his ride, he appears to be in his early-30s. The book was published in 1995, which would make him at a retirement-age mid-70s when he wrote it. Ultimately, those details do not matter. His ride and the adventure speak for themselves.

Two Wheels to Panama echoes Obsessions Die Hard, Ed Culberson’s story of riding to Panamá and the Darién Gap (see MMM #21.) Go see Marty Mataya at Go Moto (story pg 12) and start planning your own Central American adventure

Like all good adventures, Mr. Carroll’s tale is greater than it’s setting. It is the true story of how a man rediscovers himself as he navigates the Pan-American Highway a half-century ago. I read it straight through, in the time it took to savor one of Publisher Wanchena’s maduros. Three-out-of-four cylinders.

Verdict: ADV Rider – No GPS. No cell phone. No credit cards.

Traveler – Carroll is a guy you’d love to meet.

Brit Bike Lover – The humble B33 faithfully clocks over 7,700 miles.

MMM welcomes your ideas for future book reviews. Send your suggestions to: Please put “Book Review” in the subject heading.


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